1% Better With Kris: Top Company Goals

1% Better With Kris is a blog/video series with the CEO of BetterWorks, Kris Duggan. The title references one of BetterWorks’ core values to strive to be “1% Better everyday.” In each post, Kris tackles a common question or theme that customers have and demonstrates how he and the employees at BetterWorks addresses them.

Last month, we brought together some of the top minds in goal setting and leadership at our annual Goal Summit. I had an opportunity to speak with leaders from our various customers and one common question that I was asked was, "how do you use BetterWorks within your company?" I’m happy to announce a new blog series called “1% Better with Kris” for this very purpose. I'll write a post that will cover a common question or theme that we hear from our customers and I'll share a video of how we tackle it at BetterWorks.

This post and video focuses on "Top Company Goals," specifically how do my team and I set them and what are some best practices?

There are two common approaches that I’ve seen companies take.

The "Hierarchical" approach where the CEO owns all the Top Company Goals. Leaders feel that all the top initiatives for their company need to be in their name since they are ultimately responsible. Goals and milestones are then cascaded down to departments and teams. The problem with this approach, however, is that goals then become overly hierarchical. Some impacts include:

  • A long lead time or effort is needed to implement the goal structure every goal cycle
  • The goal setting process becomes difficult to manage and maintain over time
  • Goal agility is reduced because once goals are set, people don’t want to make changes due to the effort put in
  • Employees tend to view the goal setting process as top-down
  • Employees are not able to see their leader’s contributions that are outside of the Top Company Goals.

The "Flat" approach where many milestones are attached to the higher level of goals. For example, the leadership team will identify key themes, like Product Innovation or Cost Reduction and employees will align their goals to these initiatives. This is great because it drives a bottoms up approach and employees feel like they’re directly contributing to moving the company forward. Some impacts in this approach include:

  • Top Company Goals feel messy
  • Progress calculations become meaningless (progress is diluted by the sheer number of milestones)
  • Employees don’t take alignment seriously due to the excessive alignment at the leadership level
  • The Goal Chart does not reflect the true contributions across the company

Our recommended approach is actually a hybrid of the two where it's not too hierarchical and not too flat. At BetterWorks, the leadership team has one major goal per department or function, to represent the top focus area or initiatives for the company in a given quarter. Some of these may be owned by the CEO, but others may be owned by the functional leaders. Here you'll see goals owned by leaders of HR, Sales, Marketing, CS, etc. This gives you a real sense of who is responsible for each one and who is contributing to it.  From a CEO's perspective, this is actually quite liberating and allows you to focus on your goals that you are personally invested in. Just last quarter, we had a goal that was owned by our Goal Summit organizer to drive registrations for the event. This wasn't owned by me, but I had a contributing milestone to it. My team could see what I was doing to support other initiatives within BetterWorks.

This leads to a common follow up question, how do you decide what are the top company goals? At the start of each quarter, during your leadership team meetings or operations workshop, each leader is responsible for presenting their case. After some discussion, the team has a vote on the top 3 to 5 initiatives to finalize the Top Company Goals for the quarter.

Good luck on setting your top company goals and here's to getting 1% better every day!

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    Denise Lyle

    This is helpful, Kris, thank you. I agree that sometimes setting TCGs can be tricky as we may try to boil the ocean - so, I like the approach of selecting departmental goals to put forward as the "top" for each quarter. On that note, it would be helpful to have examples of Top Company Goals in the example bank, as you have Product goals, Engineering goals, etc.

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    Kris Duggan

    Excellent idea Denise, and thanks for taking the time to watch the video and comment.